Arthur on the rocks.
It’s no coincidence that I discovered cheat codes around the time I bought Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
for the Sega Genesis. That game was so abysmally hard I never would have passed the second level (the one where flying enemies repeatedly knock you off cliffs...yeah, that
one) were it not for a nifty little trick that gave me infinite lives (one or two more than needed.) Thanks to that cheat, I was able to enjoy Ghouls ‘n Ghosts
as a creepy action romp through a surreal, undead landscape and completely avoid my math homework.
It’s been years since I successfully did anything mathematical, and I haven’t used a cheat code in ages, although I did
recently play through Capcom’s new Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins
, a gussied-up trip back to the time when hard
. Times change, though, and so does the amount we’re willing to pay to fling ourselves off cliffs. Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins
adds some new abilities and equipment to the classic jump-fall-die equation, but the final sum of the package is far less than its forty dollar price tag.
The story hasn’t changed a bit. You, Arthur, arrive at the castle to find all in disarray, when Loki emerges from space to dangle the princess in front of you and reveal his dastardly plan. He means to impregnate her so his nasty little son can sit on the throne, and you have to run, jump and dice your way through six hellish levels before he can drop his evil pants. Evil pants, by the way, have lots of annoying buckles and zippers, so they really take a while to remove. This, incidentally, is why God wears a robe.
Arthur, on the other hand, wears boxers and armor. Taking a hit will knock him out of his greaves, but in Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins he can get armor upgrades, allowing him to take up to five knocks before getting naked. He can also find four different types of shields, all of which allow him to block attacks before eventually breaking, and some of which grant special abilities like mana regeneration or flight. He is still limited to one weapon at a time, and while there are some new additions such as the Vine Whip and Swallow Blade, they are all vastly inferior to the good old dagger.
Not much has changed in that regard, although Arthur does have some new moves and abilities at his disposal. He can now sprint, double jump, and hang onto a ledge if he doesn’t quite clear a chasm. He also has three magic spells: fire blast, invulnerability and time slow. These are all governed by a magic meter, which can be replenished by enemy-dropped bottles. While these new skills are all fine and dandy, Arthur still can’t change direction in mid-air, so every jump is final, and about half of them are fatal.
While it theoretically should take about four or five hours to stop Loki from making evil babies, Capcom extended the length of Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins
with a nefarious scheme of their own. To access the final sixth level, you need to collect enough Light rings, one of which is hidden in each level. If you don’t collect them all the first time through, you’ll be sent back to the beginning of the game to find the ones you missed. Capcom would like you to believe that playing the same five levels twice and then the sixth level qualifies as one eleven
hour play-through, but as I recently discovered, one plus one does not
equal eleven. To be fair, each stage also contains a warp staff, and if you collect all of these you’ll be able to warp to any stage after the reset to get the rings you missed.
Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins isn’t really a collector’s paradise, though, because the levels themselves are so outrageously hard. Where most titles ramp up the difficulty before throwing you into the fire, Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins is f-ing devilish from start to finish.
On the novice and normal difficulties, you get a set number of lives to make your way through a stage and you resurrect wherever you die. Of course, if you fall all the way down a vertical stage, you respawn at the bottom. The hardest difficulty throws tons of fast monsters at you, and any death resurrects you at the beginning of a stage
. I can’t even comprehend the level of OCD insanity required to deal with such odds, except to say that I lack
I imagine such a state to be ugly - long hair, yellow teeth, pissing-in-a-jar ugly - which is in stark contrast to the touched-up, colorful graphics found in Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins. It doesn’t push a single graphical envelope, but the action never flags even with a million flying eyeballs onscreen, and the levels look nice and creepy, especially when you get washed away by random tidal waves of blood. The only thing more Ghosts ‘n Goblins than falling off the same cliff ten times in a row is the catchy, creepy music, and that is here along with your typical “sound of an undead ogre exploding” effects.
Ultimate Ghosts ‘n Goblins adds a few new features, forces you to play through twice, and doesn’t fix the annoying, twenty year-old jumping mechanic that made previous versions so irritatingly hard. When it isn’t busy knocking you off cliffs or duping you into a second play-through, it’s a fun, hectic shooter, but without a more gradual difficulty ramp or at least some cheat codes, this is one problem best left unsolved.